Narendra Modi, adept at spinning catchy phrases that neatly fit into newspaper headlines, recently lampooned the Congress leadership for its political gimmickry. Modi said that Congress leaders should stop using the “Muslim card” or playing the bogey of “secularism under threat in India”. But events of the past few days indicate that secularism is indeed facing a mighty threat in India, not only from Narendra Modi’s right-wing politics, but also from the security-centric policies of secular parties that seek to amass excessive state powers against terrorists.
Just last week, the Times of India carried a tantalising news story. Mr Mani, a home ministry official, on the testimony of a police officer, Mr Satish Verma, submitted an affidavit in the Indian Supreme Court in the Ishrat Jahan case. The affidavit revealed that the Indian government had staged the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament and the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in order to legislate stringent anti-terrorist laws.
Ishrat Jahan was a 19-year-old girl from Mumbai, who died in an encounter with the Gujarat police. Refusing to buy this story, her mother demanded an inquiry. The Ahmadabad metropolitan court, in its 2009 judgment, said that Ishrat Jahan had died in police custody and the explosives, rifles and other weapons allegedly found in the car and on her person were all planted by the police. Later, the Special Investigation Team, appointed by the Gujarat High Court, also declared the alleged police encounter that killed Ishrat Jahan ‘fake’.
The Gujarat police tried to link the investigation of Ishrat Jahan with the 2008 Mumbai blasts by using the testimony of David Headley, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai blasts, who declared Ishrat Jahan a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative.
The obsession with national security can blur the distinction between the lawful and the unlawful. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, democratic states, including India, have attempted to bolster national security by strengthening anti terror laws and technological surveillance. However, equipping the security apparatus with draconian laws is fraught with serious repercussions for a democratic polity.
One consequence of strengthening of anti terrorist laws is that they can be selectively used against minorities. Secondly, anti-terrorist laws can also turn the population of any state into its ‘primary enemy’. Thirdly, anti terrorist laws can be misused in a state polity, where the law enforcement machinery is corrupt to the core and there is a history of colluding with political bosses for personal gains.
Mr Mani’s declaration that the Indian government staged terrorist attacks may well be far removed from reality, but it also contains a kernel of truth: faced with threat from invisible enemies, the state arms itself with arbitrary powers that are unleashed against its citizens. To safeguard against state tyranny, the civil society of India must strive to investigate suspicious killings of its citizens. The relentless pursuit of the truth will serve the cause of justice and secularism in India.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2013.
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